‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied in several French cities for a tenth consecutive weekend on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 27 January 2019

‘Yellow vests’ back on France’s streets to challenge Macron

  • The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the president
  • In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend

PARIS: Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters returned to the streets of France Saturday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies, clashing with police in several cities in a challenge to his bid to quell the movement.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back protesters at Place de la Bastille in Paris, one of the regular protest areas, as some demonstrators threw stones from a building site.
The local prefecture reported 223 arrests in Paris, while the interior ministry estimated numbers for the 11th week of protests were at 69,000 across France, compared with 84,000 last Saturday.
The demonstrations erupted in mid-November over Macron’s economic reforms, but have since grown into a wider rallies calling for the resignation of the former investment banker who critics say is out of touch with the economic struggles of ordinary French people.
In Paris and other cities, the yellow vest movement had called for the protests to continue into the night.
But police quickly dispersed several hundred protesters in the capital’s symbolic Republique square, using stun grenades as well as tear gas and water cannon to clear the area, AFP journalists said.
Clashes erupted too in Nantes in western France and in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police officer was injured by “a pyrotechnic device,” said a statement from the local prefecture.
In Paris, the official count was 4,000 demonstrators against 7,000 the previous weekend.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Twitter criticized “rioters disguised as yellow vest protesters” after Saturday’s clashes.
The weekend’s protests against Macron’s tax and social policies came as divisions appeared among the yellow vests — named after the high-visibility vests they wear — as to where to take the movement.
In a new political development, a 31-year-old nurse named Ingrid Levavasseur said this week she would lead a yellow vest list of candidates for the European elections in May.
An initial survey in the wake of the announcement suggested they would garner a respectable 13 percent of the vote.
But not every protester appeared to welcome this development.
“There is a hard core that is ready to keep fighting,” said 42-year-old Gilbert Claro from the Paris suburbs. But the movement “is not meant to be political,” he added.
“We have to keep the pressure on in the streets,” to get their demands accepted, said Virginie, an activist in her 40s who said she had been involved in the protests from the beginning.
She and many other protesters want a citizen-sponsored referendum so ordinary people can have more of a say in government policy.
This idea has been consistently rejected by the government, although Macron made some concessions last December in a bid to end the protests.
Recent opinion polls suggest that he has regained some of the ground lost during the crisis, as he has presented his case in a series of town hall events around the country.
The “great national debate” he initiated in response to the protests has nevertheless been dismissed as a public relations operation by many yellow vest protesters.
The debate is a “masquerade,” said Mathieu Styrna, a 36-year-old carpenter from northern France in Paris for the protests. His impression, he said, was that the participants had been selected.
Outside Paris, several thousand protesters were marching in Bordeaux and Toulouse in the southwest — two of the cities where support for the movement has been consistently strong.
In Bordeaux, police broke up small groups of protesters tossing fireworks and bottles as night fell.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, members of the CGT union joined the protests and about a thousand protesters turned out in the eastern city of Lyon.
For the first time on Saturday, riot police used controversial defense ball launchers (LBDs) that shoot 40-millimeter (1.6-inch) rubber and foam rounds were equipped with cameras.
A French court on Friday refused a bid brought by France’s League for Human Rights (LDH) and the CGT to ban the weapons, blamed for serious injuries suffered by some demonstrators.
The police authority in Paris announced the introduction of cameras in a move for greater transparency.
On Sunday, supporters of the government will stage their first “red scarf” protest to represent what they say is “the silent majority” defending “democracy and its institutions” and denouncing the violence of the yellow vests protests.
Two-thirds of people questioned in a IFOP-Journal du Dimanche survey published Sunday said they thought the demonstrations had not succeeded in changing how Macron was governing France.


Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

Updated 10 min 21 sec ago

Diplomats accuse Trump as impeachment hits Americans’ TVs

WASHINGTON: For the first time, the Democrats’ case for President Donald Trump’s impeachment streamed from Americans’ TVs Wednesday, including a new contention that he was overheard asking about political “investigations” that he demanded from Ukraine in trade for military aid.
On Day One of extraordinary public US House hearings — only the fourth formal impeachment effort in US history — career diplomats testified in the open after weeks of closed-door interviews aimed at removing the nation’s 45th president.
The account they delivered was a striking though complicated one that Democrats say reveals a president abusing his office, and the power of American foreign policy, for personal political gain.
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, as he opened the daylong hearing. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself.”
Career diplomat William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Kyiv, offered new testimony that Trump was overheard asking on the phone about “the investigations” of Democrats that he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.
Trump said he was too busy to watch on Wednesday and denied having the phone call. “First I’ve heard of it,” he said when asked.
All day, the diplomats testified about how an ambassador was fired, the new Ukraine government was confused and they discovered an “irregular channel” — a shadow US foreign policy orchestrated by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.
The hearing, playing out on live television and in the partisan silos of social media, provided the nation and the world a close-up look at the investigation.
At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call when he asked Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for “a favor.”
Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats’ activities in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden — all while the administration was withholding military aid for the Eastern European ally that is confronting an aggressive neighbor, Russia.
Both sides tried to distill it into soundbites.
Democrats said Trump was engaged in “bribery” and “extortion.” Republicans said nothing really happened — the military aid was ultimately released after Congress complained.
Trump restated his aggressive defense with rapid-fire tweets, a video from the Rose Garden and a dismissive retort from the Oval Office as he met with another foreign leader.
“It’s a witch hunt. It’s a hoax,” he said as he appeared with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his side.
Across the country, millions of Americans were tuning in — or, in some cases, deliberately tuning out.
Viewers on the right and left thought the day underscored their feelings. Anthony Harris, cutting hair in Savannah, Georgia, had the hearing on in his shop, but he said, “It’s gotten to the point now where people are even tired of listening.”
The hours of partisan back-and-forth did not appear to leave a singular moment etched in the public consciousness the way the Watergate proceedings or Bill Clinton’s impeachment did generations ago.
“No real surprises, no bombshells,” said committee member Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
Still, the session unspooled at least partly the way Democrats wanted with the somber tones of career foreign service officers telling what they knew. They sounded credible.
The witnesses, the graying Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in his bow tie, defied White House instructions not to appear. Both received subpoenas.
They are among a dozen current and former officials who already testified behind closed doors. Wednesday was the start of days of public hearings that will stretch into next week.
Taylor, who was asked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to return to Ukraine as Trump was firing Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, introduced new information Wednesday.
He testified that a staff member recently told him of overhearing Trump when they were meeting with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call to the Ukraine president that sparked the impeachment investigation.
The staff member explained that Sondland had called the president and they could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.” The ambassador told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified.
In the face of Trump’s denial, Schiff expects the person to appear before investigators for a closed-door deposition. He is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, according to an official unauthorized to discuss the matter and granted anonymity.
Republicans argued that even with the diplomats at the witness table the Democrats have only second- or third-hand knowledge of Trump’s alleged transgressions.
A Trump ally on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, mockingly called Taylor the Democrats’ “star witness” and said he’d “seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”
Taylor, a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer in Vietnam, responded: “I don’t consider myself a star witness for anything.”
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump had a “perfectly good reason” for wanting to investigate the role of Democrats in 2016 election interference, giving airtime to a theory that runs counter to mainstream US intelligence which found that Russia intervened and favored Trump.
Nunes accused the Democratic majority of conducting a “scorched earth” effort to take down the president after the special counsel’s Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.
The veteran foreign service officers delivered heartfelt history lessons about Ukraine, a young and hopeful democracy, situated next to Russia but reaching out to the West.
Asked about Trump’s withholding military aid from such an ally, Taylor said, “It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.”
Both men defended Yovanovitch, a career officer who Kent has said was subject to Giuliani’s “campaign of lies.” She is to testify publicly Friday.
Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House. While he said he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company, he “did not witness any efforts by any US official to shield Burisma from scrutiny.”
Republicans sought to hear from the anonymous whistleblower by subpoenaing him for a closed-session. The panel voted down the request and Schiff and repeatedly denied the GOP claim that he knows the person.
“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff declared.
The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, There’s no consensus yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the Trump phone call with Zelenskiy. The White House released a rough transcript of the telephone conversation, with portions deleted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But she pressed ahead after the whistleblower’s complaint. She said Wednesday it was sad that the country has to undergo the inquiry with Trump, but “he will be held accountable.”